And the Verdict is In

By Eve Higginbotham SM, MD, ML

We find ourselves in a crucible moment, for the family of George Floyd, for the families that have lost loved ones, for our nation, and for the world. Where will this lead us, as a community as a society?  From the time of the first video that exposed the circumstances of Mr. Floyd’s death to the verdict we all witnessed on April 20, 2021, laid bare the inequities that occur at the hands of those who hold providence over us.  There are members of the police force who are fully committed to protect and serve our communities, however there are individuals who wear the uniform and carry deep rooted biases to work every day and translate those biases into deadly force.  For some of us this has been an emotional journey, and for others of us, remarkable surprise that the judicial system would see what the world witnessed, those nine minutes and 29 seconds, a man who experienced excruciating moments of pain, suffering, and loss of hope.  The more than 45 witnesses were needed to convince the jury that it was not George Floyd’s big heart that killed him, but the small heart of Derrick Chauvin.  As a physician, it was evident that it was a lack of oxygen that led to the death of this man.   It was not an irregular heartbeat or a high concentration of carbon monoxide.  It was not the day that Mr. Floyd was supposed to die, until he encountered the knee on his neck. 

This was the verdict that we have been waiting for days, for years, or is it decades? Perhaps we can even suggest, we have been waiting for centuries.   The nameless slaves from the great continent of Africa who spoke up because another was being mistreated, or did not feel well the day that required a crop to be harvested, and found him or herself on the wrong end of a gun, a rusty chain, or a whip. This is the verdict that we have been waiting for, when a young teenager visiting his relatives in South found himself on the wrong end of tightly held fists, stones, and a rope.  For Breonna Taylor, Armaud Arbery, Daunte Wright, Rayshard Brooks, Daniel Prude, Atatiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Janisha Fonville, Eric Garner, Michelle Cusseaux, Akai Gurley, Gabbriella Nevarez, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Tanisha Anderson, this is a moment to reflect on their lives, from beginning to end.  However, these are the victims we know. 

Can we build “a more perfect Union” from this point forward?  Can we find a way forward to live up to the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for every American citizen in our country?  Is this the moment that America pivots to a new understanding of justice and accountability?  Can we now state that all human life is valued, and Black Lives Matter?

I invite each of us to take this moment and reflect on its meaning, and take stock in our own role in building a better future for ourselves, each other, and our nation.  We can move forward and lean into the work of our own initiative of Action for Cultural Transformation and create a united, antiracist Penn Medicine community together.